Whilst experts and the opinionated pore over the lessons to be learned from the demise of Kids Company in terms of what the charity did right or wrong, the real challenge for all of us is how to ensure society can meet the needs of the most disadvantaged such as the young people who Camila batmanghelidjh reached out to so effectively. As Martin Narey pointed out yesterday, there are 164,000 charities in England and Wales. In his opinion that is too many and he wants to see some form of consolidation. The problem with that point of view is that most charities are incredibly small, receive no funding apart from what they raise locally from individual donors and neither employ staff, nor rent property. If Martin Narey is focused on numbers, he will need to focus at this end of the spectrum and it will be a colossal waste of time and energy. The easy way to reduce the number of charities is to raise the threshold of charities that can register or remain on the register from £5,000 per year income, to £10,000. That would remove 70,000 of the charities in one move. If the bar was set a little higher, say £15,000 or perhaps even £20,000 the number removed would possibly hit the 100,000 mark. However even when the charities are much larger, merging charities if done properly takes a lot of time and energy and can be a complete distraction from the work in hand. I have had extensive experience in charity mergers and its a vital activity, but not something to do simply to satisfy bean counters. It seems that the wisdom overflowing from the pages of our newspapers, our broadcasters and our political leaders about Kids Company, could be much better employed in a widespread campaign for all of us to support the charities in our communities that are doing good and find out for ourselves what makes a good (or bad) charity.
The real lesson for political leaders of all hues and at all levels within national and local government is to stop interfering with individual charities, favouring one over another and instead work with groups of charities that meet the identified needs in their communities. Despite the stories from Kids Company, most charities struggle to be heard by and to hear from those leading the political landscape in their area. It is understandable why charities with flamboyant or charismatic leaders might get heard in preference to those whose work pressure or strategy means they are not free for photo calls, perhaps because they don’t see how such things can further the work they are doing. However politicians tell us they act without fear of favour. Commentators seem to be divided over whether Cameron favoured or was in fear of Camila, perhaps it was a bit of both. The way to ensure he was accused of neither, would have been to avoid giving Kids Company special access, and to ensure he did not interfere with decisions taken by civil servants when it came to the charity. What is most shocking in the stories of the last few days is the extent to which senior civil servants and Government Ministers were even involved in discussions about one charity and its funding needs in isolation from those among the 164,000 others who are working tirelessly to meet burgeoning local needs within a landscape of budgets that have been shrinking for the last 5-7 years and who are impacted by the fall out from Kids Company, just as much as if they were part of the problems.